Music therapist

Music therapy is a form of psychological therapy that uses music to develop the relationship between clients and the therapist, and to support clients' wellbeing and ability to interact. It can be particularly useful for clients who have difficulties with communication or who find it overwhelming to try to express their emotions verbally. Music therapists may work on a one to one basis or lead sessions with groups.

Work Activities

Responsibilities of the job include:

  • assessing clients' needs
  • planning and providing appropriate music sessions
  • actively participating in music sessions and encouraging clients to do the same
  • exploring a variety of musical styles and sounds with clients through singing, percussion, ethnic instruments and improvisation
  • maintaining records and case notes
  • reporting progress to families, carers, relevant agencies or professional staff

Therapists work with adults and children who are suffering symptoms including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Physical, psychiatric or neurological disorders
  • Learning difficulties
  • Dementia
  • Autism
  • Behavioural or emotional problems

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills for musical therapists

  • Maturity
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills
  • Musical ability
  • Intuition and creativity
  • The ability to work with people from a variety of backgrounds
  • The ability to deal effectively with challenging situations

Pay And Opportunities

Typical employers of music therapists

  • NHS trusts
  • Local education authorities
  • Local authority social services departments
  • Hospitals
  • Day or health centres
  • Residential homes
  • Nurseries
  • Special schools
  • Prisons

Many music therapists work as private practitioners.

Music therapy is a small profession and there is strong competition for jobs. Most opportunities that come up are part time or temporary contracts. Vacancies are advertised in newspapers and publications such as the Times Educational Supplement and Community Care, and on the NHS jobs website. The British Association for Music Therapy also lists vacancies on its website.


Qualifications and training required

You do not necessarily need an undergraduate music degree to become a music therapist. However it is necessary to complete a postgraduate education and training course in music therapy that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You cannot practise as a music therapist unless you are registered with the HCPC. Postgraduate music therapy courses typically take two years full time or three to four years part time.

While you do not need to be a music graduate, musical proficiency is required and an audition is a standard part of the application process for music therapy postgraduate courses. You may be expected to have an undergraduate degree or professional qualification in a field such as social work or teaching if you do not have a music degree. 

Relevant experience prior to postgraduate study is normally essential. This may not be related to music, but is likely to involve professional experience of a role involving caring for vulnerable people. Music therapy may not be a first career choice, and many people enter the profession later in life.

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